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Radio Feedback: The Hardcore Beginnings of fun.’s Jack Antonoff

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By Scott T. Sterling

Welcome to Radio Feedback, Radio.com’s weekly feature where we ask artists to wax nostalgic on the first time they heard themselves on the radio.

It wasn’t hard to hear fun. on the radio throughout 2012. In fact it was difficult not to find their breakthrough hit “We Are Young” playing across multiple formats while flipping through the dial a couple years ago.

Since then, the New York-based trio has toured the world multiple times over and taken home top prizes at the GRAMMYs (Song of the Year and Best New Artist in 2013). While the band didn’t have any new music to be considered for this year’s GRAMMYs, individual band members were nominated in major categories: frontman Nate Ruess was up for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Song of the Year for his work with Pink on the duet “Just Give Me A Reason,” and guitarist Jack Antonoff was in the running for Best Pop Solo Performance for co-writing Sara Bareilles‘ “Brave.”

As this is to say, Antonoff is quite accustomed to hearing his songs over the airwaves by now. His earliest memory of hearing one of his own songs on the radio stretches all the way back to his teenage years, long before he was penning pop hits.

“Well, I was 15, I had a band called Outline,” the fun. guitarist said during an exclusive Radio.com interview at the GRAMMY Museum last month. “There was this punk alternative station out of Long Island that had a show on a terribly small [frequency] from like 2 a.m. to 2:15 a.m. or something ridiculous. Some guy knew someone, and they played our song. We drove up late at night to hear it on the radio. It was a song called “Passing Her Life By,” which was a screaming mess of hardcore music.”

For Antonoff’s trained ear, there is a very specific sound that comes with hearing his songs on the radio.

“There is something to the way radio compresses music,” he explained. “It sounds different and it sounds more special.”

After repeating a similar experience over the years (“I had a couple of things here and there”), Antonoff can vividly recall the first time he heard fun. coming across an FM station.

“I heard ‘We Are Young’ on the radio, in bed, staying at the Sheraton right around here,” he recalled, gesturing towards the surrounding downtown L.A. area. “We’d heard that ‘We Are Young’ was going to be on the radio, so we woke up early and it was, and it was a really amazing moment. Once again, just because of the way radio compresses music, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m on the radio.’ It doesn’t sound like if you plug your iPod in or play a CD. It sounds like the radio, and it sounds like all of these other songs that you idolize.”

It could be said that the band is somewhat superstitious when it comes to reacting to such milestones, which Antonoff explained with a video game analogy about maintaining composure when every fiber in your being is screaming for cathartic release.

“One time I was playing Megatouch in a bar, me and Nate were playing it. We were crushing, we had beat our top score,” the guitarist said. “Nate was like, ‘Don’t freak out, it’s just like in sports.’ He had some line that I can’t remember, and it was very brilliant. But like, you just don’t freak out, because that’s when you mess it up. So when we heard it on the radio, we were kind of like, ‘Right on.’”

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